Rivers of blood in the killing fields

Independent Decade
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Just across the Drina river from the sleepy town of Ljubovija, a slaughter is said to be taking place: possibly the biggest mass execution of Muslim prisoners by the Bosnian Serbs in more than three years of war.

According to residents of the Bosnian Serb-controlled town of Bratunac and Serbs from Serbia who have visited the area, as many as 4,000 captured Muslim men from Srebrenica have been killed by Bosnian Serbs driven to brutality by a desire for vengeance.

One Serb who claimed to have seen the main execution site, a playground in Bratunac, spoke of a field "knee- deep in blood".

Foreign journalists and aid workers have been prevented from visiting Bosnian Serb detention centres to determine the fate of the thousands of Muslim prisoners of war taken from Srebrenica last week. Bosnian Serb police strictly control the border with orders to keep out prying foreigners. But they have been unable to stop whispers of the ongoing slaughter from crossing the bridges into Serbia proper.

On Tuesday, two young women crossed the old iron bridge that connects Bratunac with Ljubovija on the Serbian bank of the river. Neither wished to be identified but one, a resident of Serbia, said she had just been to visit her brother-in-law, a Bosnian Serb soldier.

"He and his friends are quite open about what is going on," the woman said. "They are killing Muslim soldiers. They said they killed 1,600 yesterday alone and estimated that in all they had killed about 4,000 men. They said they were in a big hurry, so they were shooting most of them. Only the known 'war criminals', the ones that they have been looking for, had their throats slit.''

The Bosnian authorities estimate that 10,000 people are still unaccounted for. But the horror stories now surfacing refer specifically to men who surrendered or who have been taken prisoner. The two women said the killings were going on at "the playground" - earlier described as a stadium - and at a school near some kind of warehouse. Testimony from all the other sources mentioned these same sites Other witnesses spoke of having seen a dumper truck full of corpses parked at the roadside near Bratunac. Next to the truck was an earth-mover digging a large hole, presumably a mass grave.

The reasons suggested for the reported brutality go back to the first year of the war when Muslim soldiers from Srebrenica managed to break the siege of the town and razed several nearby villages, killing many Serb civilians in the process. Now that Srebrenica has been overrun, the Serbs want revenge.

The reported killings, however, do not appear to be random acts of revenge. According to one resident of Bratunac the local authorities issued an open invitation to all Serbs who lost relatives in the Srebrenica Muslim raids to report to the playground "to avenge themselves".

Although the Bosnian Serbs have agreed in principle to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross into the detention camps when the "security situation allows", there are fears that by the time they gain entry it will be too late to determine the full extent of any abuses.

Already, refugees from Srebrenica say that evidence of fighting and bloodshed has been cleaned up. Jela Batkovic, a 66-year-old woman who returned to Srebrenica on Monday, after all Serb refugees were invited back by the Bosnian Serb government, said: "There are no signs of fighting at all. Srebrenica is little more than a ghost town; it is an eerie place."

Robert Block won the Amnesty International Print Journalist of the Year award in 1995 for his coverage of Srebrenica.

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